Claire Fuller

Hampshire Life - - Inside - PHOTO: Adrian Har­vey

Meet Winch­ester’s best-sell­ing au­thor

Turn­ing 40 kick started a ca­reer change for Claire Fuller that took even her by suprise. She talks to Re­becca Fletcher about be­com­ing

a best-sell­ing au­thor, and what to ex­pect from her lat­est novel

Em­bark­ing on a new ca­reer as a writer was not some­thing Winch­ester-based au­thor Claire Fuller imag­ined she would do at 40. Nor did she ex­pect that her de­but novel, Our End­less Num­bered Days, would see her long listed for a cat­a­logue of lit­er­ary prizes; in­clud­ing win­ning the 2015 Des­mond El­liott Prize, an an­nual award for the best de­but novel writ­ten in English and pub­lished in the UK. Be­fore de­cid­ing to take the plunge, Claire had stud­ied Sculp­ture for her first de­gree at the Winch­ester School of Art, fol­lowed by a long ca­reer in mar­ket­ing.

“It wasn’t some­thing I ever in­tended at all. I had been do­ing some per­for­mance projects with my hus­band and we’d come to the end of that. I sup­pose I was look­ing for some­thing else. Some­thing that was chal­leng­ing, that pushed me out of my com­fort zone,” Claire ex­plains.

That chal­lenge ar­rived in the form of a short story com­pe­ti­tion run at the Winch­ester Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre.

“It was the sort of thing where you had to sign up, write a short story and then read it out loud to an au­di­ence. I hadn’t done any cre­ative writ­ing since leav­ing school at 18. It was re­ally scary. The au­di­ence voted in a win­ner and if you won, you got a share of the door’s tak­ings. It ran ev­ery six weeks or so and I en­tered and wrote and wrote. Even­tu­ally I won. I got £9.87!” she laughs.

Buoyed by her win and con­tin­u­ing to write sto­ries, she de­cided to en­rol on an MA course in Cre­ative and Crit­i­cal Writ­ing at the Univer­sity of Winch­ester. Sign­ing up as a ma­ture stu­dent made her more de­ter­mined than ever to cap­i­talise on the op­por­tu­ni­ties with which the course pre­sented her.

“I had two teenage chil­dren at home; I was work­ing full time and do­ing my MA. I don’t know how I did it now. I wanted to see if I could. Be­ing a ma­ture stu­dent, I wanted to get my money’s worth! I started writ­ing my first book whilst I was on the course so it wasn’t as if I had space to write. It just hap­pened to be the right time for me.”

Snatch­ing time to write here and there, Claire would write be­fore and af­ter work as well as at week­ends. Land­ing an agent as she fin­ished her Masters was the ic­ing on the cake and en­abled Claire to take a huge risk, giv­ing up her job and turn­ing to writ­ing full time. Her first novel be­gan as an as­sign­ment set by one of the lec­tur­ers on her course and was in­spired by a news story she’d read about a boy who ap­peared in Ber­lin, claim­ing to have been liv­ing in the woods for years.

“I just wrote this novel sit­ting on my sofa then sent it off to some agents hop­ing that it would come to some­thing. I was aware of the sta­tis­tics of how many nov­els are writ­ten and how many au­thors’ agents take on, and that they don’t al­ways man­age to sell it to pub­lish­ers. It was a huge sur­prise to me. Re­ally it was.”

As an au­thor Claire has gone from

strength to strength with Swim­ming Lessons, a sec­ond book, be­ing de­scribed by The Sun­day Times as hav­ing ‘a so­phis­ti­cated sense of sus­pense.’ Claire is also part of a lo­cal writ­ers’ group called

The Tav­ern­ers. Meet­ing at St James’ Tav­ern in Winch­ester ev­ery month, the group is made up of some who are pub­lished and some with short story col­lec­tions, po­etry or chil­dren’s books.

“We’re all lo­cal, all writ­ing. We swap work, per­haps a chap­ter or two – they read my work as I go along. It’s great as a writer to work to­wards a dead­line. Know­ing that we’ll meet each month fo­cuses me.”

Bit­ter Or­ange, Claire’s third novel, re­leased on Au­gust 2, was in­spired by a place much closer to home – The Grange in Al­res­ford. Fol­low­ing the death of her in­valid mother, Frances Jel­li­coe is com­mis­sioned to write a re­port on the gar­den ar­chi­tec­ture at Lyn­tons, a crum­bling coun­try pile bought by an ab­sent Amer­i­can col­lec­tor. There she meets the he­do­nis­tic and glam­orous Cara and Peter and be­comes in­creas­ingly en­tan­gled in their lives; caught in a web of sto­ries and lies. As the di­lap­i­dated Lyn­tons be­gins to share its se­crets, a hot deca­dent sum­mer draws them to­wards a crime which will brand their lives for­ever. This is a book which is dark and brood­ing, a page turner which keeps the reader on edge just like the threat of a thun­der­storm hang­ing over that sum­mer in 1969 when the story is set.

“Lyn­tons is very much The Grange in Al­res­ford. It’s a house that I’ve been vis­it­ing since I’ve lived in Hamp­shire, al­though I have moved the house in the book in my head to the Hamp­shire Hang­ers. The Grange is such an im­pres­sive house with those mas­sive pil­lars – the way it sits in the land­scape in its neo­clas­si­cal style.”

Writ­ing and editing Bit­ter Or­ange over a two year pe­riod, Claire would of­ten walk the grounds of The Grange, just to soak up the at­mos­phere and im­merse her­self in her story as it un­folded. A pri­vate tour of the house with its care­taker sparked more in­spi­ra­tion with the won­der­ful tales he had to tell about the prop­erty, which be­longed to the Bar­ing fam­ily but is now owned by English Her­itage and is also home to The Grange Opera Fes­ti­val. Its build­ings were also req­ui­si­tioned by the army dur­ing WWII.

“Some of the more ghostly parts in Bit­ter Or­ange came out of hear­ing those sto­ries,” Claire re­counts. “I’ve al­ways loved the idea of coun­try house col­lec­tors. Liv­ing near the Pitt Rivers Mu­seum in Ox­ford as a child, I loved that mu­seum and the col­lec­tion at Snow­shill Manor – weird men col­lect­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary things.”

How­ever, for Claire, her new found ca­reer re­mains about writ­ing a novel which read­ers will en­joy for her craft.

“I spend a lot of time think­ing about a book – it’s not just that I sit down and write. The story has to be good, it has to have pace, there has to be a plot. I want peo­ple to be in­trigued but it’s about the craft for me. I love mak­ing a per­fect sen­tence that flows into the next. Mak­ing sure that ev­ery sin­gle word is the right word in the right place; al­most like I am writ­ing a bit of po­etry. That’s re­ally im­por­tant to me.”

Judg­ing by the re­cep­tion Claire’s writ­ing has al­ready re­ceived, it is clear that she has cer­tainly found her call­ing and we’re sure that Bit­ter Or­ange will be top­ping the charts very soon.

“I just wrote this novel sit­ting on my sofa then sent it off to some agents hop­ing that it would come to some­thing”

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